manuscriptIf you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen

It’s easy to play it safe, and that’s one of the struggles I often find I have to overcome when I’m trying to write. I write dialogue and discover the people are playing so nicely with one another there’s no real conflict. There’s a problem with this: it’s not just boring to read, it’s really, really boring to write.

There’s a reason it’s called a “comfort zone”; it’s that place we head to naturally. We know the parameters, we know how people are supposed to react and things should turn out. It doesn’t stretch us and it’s…safe. We don’t want to venture out of that defined little area because when we do, we’re threatened with failure. It’s there nibbling at the edges of our consciousness, letting us know that we’re taking a risk. Risk is bad. Risk is…risky. So much easier to stay with the tried and true. Except…

We can fail with the tried and true as well because the work no longer has anything behind it except a series of steps that have been locked into place in advance. Step one: Cute Meet. Step Two: Misunderstanding. Step Three: First Kiss. Step Four: Escalating Misunderstanding. Step Five: Slo-Mo Love Scene With Song We Are Hoping Will Become a Pop Hit. Step Six: More Misunderstanding Substituting for Black Moment. Step Seven: Final Clinch and Reprise of Potential Pop Hit. Alternate Ending: Substitute Second Pop Hit Hopeful. Sound familiar?

This month is the time to go outside your comfort zone, let your characters misbehave, act out, do things you would neverlet them do in a draft anyone was going to read beside themselves. Let them be extreme. You can soften some of the rough edges later because that’s what revision’s for. Not everything we write will be golden; heck, most of what we write probably won’t be golden. A good deal could probably be used to fertilize the tomato plants. But we should be willing to risk falling from time to time because that’s the way we know we’re reaching further and further.

We have ten days left. Today, I’m challenging to let your characters do something outrageous today, just to see how those around them react. The results may surprise you.